To his surprise, Malik smiled, looking extremely proud. "Yes, I do. And I taught you well. Had you agreed, that would have been a great disappointment. No one will ever be your equal, boy. Not even me, given time. I have more to teach you yet, but you have all the makings of a fine Unseelie king. My son."
He backed away, panic fluttering. "No, I don't. And I'm not your son. Not in any way that matters."
"You are, and you will prove me correct."
"Yeah? How's that?" He was about two seconds from bolting. Fuck, he needed out of here.
"You will see." Malik paused, studying him. "Have you forgotten why you came here today, to my humble cabin?"
Kalen's mind was a mess. He thought for a few seconds before he recalled his original reason for the visit. "You claimed my mate lied to me. That she knew something and wouldn't tell me."
Malik paused, then detonated his world. "Your Mackenzie knows that you are my son. She knows that the baby she carries is my grandchild."
The room dipped and the Unseelie's clawed hand steadied him on his feet. "You're lying!"
"No. I told her several days ago, a fact that you can easily confirm by speaking with her. Which I assume you will do."
"Does Nick know?" he managed.
"That I cannot say." Malik shrugged. "But he is a Seer, is he not? How many, I wonder, hid the truth from you? Perhaps my other wayward son-your half brother, Sariel? Did he lie as well?"
His conversation with Sariel in the infirmary flashed through his mind in snippets.
As his progeny, I am the only being with the power to destroy him. Or so I believed until recently.
I've known you were Fae since the second you entered the compound.
As humans say, my sire lies like a fucking rug. Don't believe anything that passes his foul lips, Sorcerer. I mean that.
Kalen couldn't speak. There were no words for the agony of betrayal. His mate's, perhaps Nick's and Sariel's, too. So many lies and half-truths, he didn't know who to believe. Who to turn to in his confusion and pain. And Malik understood exactly how to apply salt to the wound.
"Those pathetic humans you've come to trust, they will destroy you," the Unseelie said, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"They won't." But he was no longer sure. Hadn't Nick promised that if Kalen gave in to the darkness he'd be executed as a rogue?
"The commander practically has a hard-on at the possibility of being able to blow your brains out. And Sorcerer or not, there's no coming back from having your gray matter splattered over the forest."
That image reminded him of another, this one very real. "You really did murder my mother and my fa-David Black," he accused, seething.
"Yes. I wiped from the earth the man who had abused you for years and the woman who stood by and allowed it to happen." He regarded Kalen coolly. "And when you saw their bodies, didn't a large part of you wish that you had done the deed? Isn't that really why you became ill?"
God help him, he couldn't deny that.
All he could be thankful for was that his grandmother had died months before he was forced from his home. Ida May never knew the horror that befell her daughter.
Wait. "You never harmed my grandmother, did you? Because if you did-"
The Unseelie held up a hand. "On my word, I never touched Ida May. We locked horns many times, but I rather admired the old bat, in my own way. As far as I know, she perished of natural causes, whatever those might have been."
Strangely, he believed that, if anything, was the unvarnished truth.
The two of them stood for long moments, neither speaking. In all of the horrible revelations, the one that hurt the most centered on Mackenzie. She was the sole bright light in his entire miserable existence. If he couldn't count on her, he had nothing.
"You are thinking of your mate," Malik said. "She kept two very important truths from you, but don't take my word. Confront her for yourself and you will see."
"I don't need your advice on how to conduct my personal life."
He shrugged. "Whether you heed my advice or not, it doesn't matter. The reality is what it is."
If only he could grasp what that reality was. He turned to get the hell out, but the Unseelie grasped his arm.
"You're forgetting something."
Kalen glared at him, ready to snap out a retort-and then the Unseelie opened his wrist with a claw and held it out.
"Your blood reward."
"I don't want it." He gritted his teeth against the tantalizing scent of the blood, so intoxicating. Better than liquor. He wanted to resist, but was about as successful as a junkie trying to turn down a hit of heroin.
"Taste. And this time, do so knowing who you are and that you're mine."
The wrist waved in front of his nose and he hesitated a few heartbeats before grabbing it and giving in to temptation. His panther purred, glad to have any blood that he didn't have to hunt. His other half enjoyed letting the sweetness, so like molasses, slide down his throat to warm his belly. It infused his body with a shot of adrenaline, filled his soul with wickedness.
He wanted to hurt those who had lied to and misled him. Longed to crush them all. Except his mate. Her, perhaps, he would show mercy. But the others? There was no limit to his wrath, no stopping his revenge.
Delicious tendrils of excitement snaked around his balls. This sort of absolute power was pure arousal, frighteningly addictive. Drugs were never a lure for him, but this was different.
"My boy," Malik whispered. "My son. Take all you need. I give you my strength to add to yours."
Kalen drank until he couldn't think straight anymore, while Malik stroked his head and murmured.
"Embrace who you are. Then make them pay."
The wonderful darkness had obliterated all reason. Hadn't he endured enough agony? What had he ever done to deserve the abuse he'd suffered his entire life? All of it was too much. His mind, his will, could no longer stand against this seduction.
"Make them all pay."
Yes. He wanted that. "How?"
"First, you will kill Sariel. He is a threat to me, to us," Malik said quietly. "I know this will be difficult for you, but it must be done."
"But . . . he's my half brother."
"Yes, and he must die, or you and I will. If we perish, so does our mission-to rule the world and put paranormals at the top of the food chain. Remember what I told you before about the greater good. Sometimes sacrifices must be made, my boy."
"Very good." He gave Kalen a sly smile. "Have no fear. You will come to enjoy the killing. Do you feel the wicked rush in your veins from the blood reward?"
"Yeah." He wanted more.
"Killing your prey slowly, draining their life force as you do . . ." He made a sound of satisfaction. "There is nothing like it. Multiply how the blood reward makes you feel and you'll have an idea how pleasurable it is to take your prey."
Against his will, his cock thickened in anticipation. Deep in his brain, some part of the former Kalen recoiled in dread at his own salacious thoughts. The longing to feel what Malik described. But he couldn't deny that he wanted it. He was tired of being the nice guy, of coming in last.
It was time for vengeance.
"I'll kill Sariel," he heard himself say. What? No!
"And then you will kill one other Pack member of your choice. Someone you truly like."
"Why?" He frowned.
"Because I order it so, and you must prove your loyalty is to me and none other."
That settled him. He had a purpose. "All right."
Malik looked beyond pleased. "You will be amazed at how easy and satisfying it is to drain the life force of another and take it into yourself. This is your birthright. It is only natural for the strong to consume the weak."
"I'll do it. What else?"
"When I give the order, you will lower the shields on the compound again. And this time they will remain down. I have an army of hundreds of Sluagh ready to storm the base and slaughter every living soul inside. Except your mate, of course. I have big plans for my grandson."
Kalen tried to feel something at that news, any sense of remorse. But it was as though he'd signed away his soul to the devil.
Except . . . his son. The screaming voice was back in his head, protesting. He had to protect his son from Malik. But then the voice was fading away, buried under layers of malice and confusion. Replaced by animal excitement.
Death and destruction. Why did that sound so inviting?
This isn't me. But I can't stop him. Don't know how.
Oh, how he longed to kill.
But can I do it, when the time comes?
"Would you like to practice?"
He blinked at Malik. "What?"
"Trust me. I'll create an avatar for you to practice on." With a wave of his hand, the Unseelie chanted a few words in a language Kalen had never heard before. In moments, a whirl of energy whipped round and round in the living room and slowly formed into a familiar figure.
"Sariel?" he whispered.
In the middle of the room, the prince stood blinking in confusion, uncertain of where he was or what was going on, it seemed. The Fae looked to Malik and then Kalen, fear blooming on his face.
"Why am I here?" the prince asked.
"You were supposed to create an avatar, not bring someone here for real!" Kalen said.
"This is an avatar." Malik shook his head. "If it were that easy to bring my wayward first son here and kill him, I would've done that long ago."
"As if you could ever kill me," Sariel's image sneered. "You're pathetic, both of you."
With that, Kalen let the darkness loose. He shot a bolt of white energy at the blue-haired, blue-winged figure. The bolt hit him square in the chest and he went down.
Kalen pounced, but the prince rolled away, proving to be a more agile target than he'd thought. He went after the fleeing form, tackling the Seelie before he got halfway across the room. A fragile bone in one of the wings snapped and the prince shouted in pain. One tiny drop of blood, and the lust for the kill was ignited.
He let his panther loose and pinned the faery as he would a deer, going for the throat. Just before he struck, the prince turned wide, stricken eyes toward him and whispered, "Brother."
But it was too late to stop the panther. His jaws closed over the vulnerable throat like a steel trap and crushed. Slowly. Flesh, muscle, and bone gave way to his superior strength. The weak feeds the strong. The prince's cries were strangled, then silenced, but his body continued to fight.
"That's it, Kalen," his father rasped, his voice thick. "Now feel his life force with your magic and drink it in like fine Cognac. Take it all."
Reaching out with his magic, he did just that. He followed the tendril of life to its source and began to breathe it inside himself. At the same time, he drank. Slurped the blood of his victim and began to feed at his neck, tearing the tender meat. So good. So fucking fantastic. He could come from this, feeding and glutting-
And suddenly the body beneath him was gone. It simply vanished into thin air. There was no blood anywhere. Not on himself or the floor. He turned back to human form and scowled. Where had his prey disappeared to?
"I'd say you got the hang of that rather quickly."
"It really was an avatar?"
"Yes. As I said, the real Sariel has been much harder to catch."
Kalen shuddered. He'd known, deep down, the avatar wasn't real and said a silent thanks for it. But he'd still reveled in the act of killing. Could he do it next time, for real?
"You can do it," his father said, as if reading his thoughts. "I would not have chosen you to rule at my side if you did not possess the strength."